Thursday, December 08, 2005
Lennon Killed 25 Years Ago Today
It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since John Lennon was shot four times and killed by Mark Chapman, but it's true. In April of 1980, I had moved to Albuquerque from Chicago. On the evening of December 8th, I was to pick up a friend at the airport. An unusual and very heavy fog hung down on the Duke City that night and my friend's flight was delayed and later diverted because visibility was so low. I heard about the murder on my car radio while driving between home and the airport. Like almost everyone else in my generation, I was devastated. I recall listening to John's last album, Double Fantasy, and much of his other music many times that night. The continuing dense fog seemed just right.
Another assassination. First John Kennedy, then Martin Luther King, then Robert Kennedy and finally John Winston Ono Lennon to round out the tragic quartet of lost visionaries. Each time, the new wound reopened the scars from the last one. Each time, a feeling of incredible loss, a startlingly personal loss somehow. But this last one was someone from my own generation.
I was a Beatles fan from the beginning. Nothing like starting out that era as a 15 year old. I was lucky to see the Beatles play live three times in Chicago, twice at the barnlike International Amphitheater at the Stockyards and once at the old Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. I recall standing on a folding chair for most of the first concert, plugging my ears against the outrageously loud screaming, and trying to stay balanced while girls crawled along the floor and under the seats trying to make their way to the stage. Ticket price: $2.50. At the second, my friends and I managed to finagle box seats that hung over the stage on John's side and we spent most of that concert waving and exchanging gestures with Lennon. A special treat: we could clearly hear the band. At the third, we got to meet George Harrison's sister, Louise, who lived in Illinois, near the third base dugout.
Paul (the "cute Beatle") was my favorite at the beginning. As things progressed, the dreamy, sitar-playing George took over that spot. Finally, as I matured and became more enmeshed in politics and the counterculture, John was the one. I wasn't alone in this progression. Many in my generation made the same trip. And a trip it was. They grew and evolved as we did. And vice versa.
Of course I wonder what Lennon would be doing now, if he had lived. He'd be 65 for one thing. Would he still be turning out witty, relevant, bluntly and beautifully imagined music to match our experiences and speak truth to power? I'd like to think so. After all, even the Viet Nam-era Give Peace a Chance is, once again, timely. Oh, and Happy Xmas (War is Over). If we want it.
A sampler of tributes:
Rolling Stone has a long bio-article by Mikal Gilmore, a podcast of a 1970 interview of Lennon by Jann Wenner, a rundown of John's essential recordings by David Fricke and an interview by Pete Hamill from 1975.
AOL has a bunch of stuff, including a free play of the full CD of Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon.
Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! has another treasure trove, mostly to do with Lennon and politics.